The Virtue and Practice of Rest

Mark 1:9-15

It’s not popular to take a break. Is it? Really, it’s not. I mean, you’re tired, burned out, mentally exhausted at work, and so you think—I should—take a break, right? And so, when you do, to recharge, to find your strength again, are you met with approving looks and applause?

Most likely, NO. Most likely, people stare at you across cubicles with dagger-like eyes that penetrate your very soul.

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Most likely, you hear whispers around the water cooler that you’re lazy or that you not a hard worker. Eventually, you may even get a little paranoid if you even take a second of time to drink a glass of water or use the restroom. Will they call you lazy? Will they think you don’t care? Will you be punished for wanting to rest?

We live and breathe within a system we call “society” that doesn’t exactly encourage us to rest, isn’t it so? You don’t have to work in a cubicle to know that. Students are well aware. If the amount of homework were not enough, students who wish to attend prestigious universities are pushed to the limit in AP classes and are also told to participate in as many extracurricular activities as possible, not for enjoyment, mind you, but so that their college applications rise to the top. So, they don’t act in a play or dance or sing or play an instrument or a sport just because it’s fun and amazing. They do it to get into a college. They do it for someone else.

I’ll admit also that religions are not so good at encouraging rest either. How often do priests or pastors or rabbis or imams or any type of religious clergy actually explicitly encourage the members of their communities to take a break, to rest? Even from religion? Yeah, take a few Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays off. Spend time with your family, go out with your friends; or be enjoy time by yourself. Take a break, rest. Look, as clergy, we should be saying this. We should be modeling this by taking a break ourselves, by unplugging, by decompressing, by…resting. But often we don’t.

And why is that, do you think?

Because many of us mistake taking a break or rest for laziness. Because too many still equate more hours of work with productivity. And we’ve become empty in this way. We’ve lost the art of rest.

I don’t have all the answers. I will say that in my experience this phenomenon is related to our need for control and for being able to solve problems—even the problems of the world. All of us, in our own way, have a savior complex, It’s human, really, we want to help. We don’t like to see people suffer. It’s not bad at all to think or feel that. It only becomes a problem if we start to believe that without our help or insight or words or actions, whenever there is a problem, the world will just blow up. If we don’t do something about all the issues we’re concerned about, well—what’s the point? We’re tugged and pulled in a million different directions. We can’t rest. No way! There’s too much to care about, too much to be angry or sad or vigilant about! We. Cannot. Rest.

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Now before you think that this is advocacy for complacency or indifference, bear with me. I, like many of you, care about numerous issues going on around the world, I, like many of you, am saddened, angered, and overwhelmed. We should care. We should feel. But we can’t be saviors. We need to rest. And we need to rest so that we can actually help.

Now I don’t know how religious of a person you are or aren’t. It doesn’t really matter. I was raised in a Christian household and so I learned about Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel stories and also the Jewish stories about Moses and Joshua and Noah. And at some point in my life I realized that all my stressing about what was happening or not happening in the world came back to me. For every time I worried about some issue and couldn’t sleep, it was because I felt helpless. Like I couldn’t anything or solve anything. The problem was there and I could do nothing. It’s awful to feel helpless, don’t you think? And I had no answers and no remedy for sleeplessness. Until I rested. Until I rested. I took a break from my worry and from my desire to help or save or to solve and I just stopped.

And that was baptism for me. I saw the heavens tear apart and I heard kind and wise voices, saying that all of us are beloved and that the Divine is pleased with us. And after experiencing that, sooner rather than later I was back in the wilderness, back in the fray, where students are shot at school [again] and politicians and lobbyists don’t care and do nothing; where women are still treated like toys; where transgender people are shamed and attacked; where black people are devalued and criminalized; where money talks and truth walks. Back in the fray after a rest.

But something is different. Back in the fray, but one with the nature of who we are, like the animals who don’t tweet or post or gossip but merely live. Back in the wilderness where angels of rest dance on my shoulders.

See, rest…it’s not laziness or indifference. It’s wisdom. It’s strength. It’s restoration.

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I know a lot of you are upset, sad, scared, angry with the way things are going right now. I am too. But please, for your sake and the sake of all the people and things you care about—don’t neglect rest. Take a break, a step back. Gain perspective. Gather yourself. Find new strength. The problems and issues will be there when you are done resting, believe it. But you will be back in the fray with new energy.

 

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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